hide logo

Christopher Brown

Short Biography
Christopher Brown, PhD is an Acting Dean of the College of Arts & Humanities and Professor of Communication Studies at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He has published books chapters, encyclopedia entries, book reviews, and articles on a variety of topics focusing on discourses of white supremacy, white-male elites’ constructions of race and leadership, and phenomenology and race. His work appears in such journals as the Communication Monographs, Departures in Critical Qualitative Research, Communication Studies, Howard Journal of Communications, and Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. He is a co-author of Race and the Senses: The Felt Politics of Racial Embodiment (Routledge, 2020).

Panel Abstract
Race and the Senses: The Felt Politics of Racial Embodiment
With Sachi Sekimoto

How do racialized subjects feel and sense race? How is racial embodiment experienced by racialized subjects? The history of racism in the U.S. has perpetually objectified and dehumanized people of color. At the core of this dehumanization is the subtle yet pervasive myth that the bodies of color—particularly Black bodies—feel less sensitively than the white bodies. The presumed lack of sensory sophistication opens the door to justifying violence and exploitation. To treat someone as less-than-human, you must first deprive them of the fundamental characteristics of being fully human, namely, the bodily, intellectual, and emotional capacity to feel and reflect on such feelings. Living in a racialized body means moving through social worlds with a double somatic awareness of being a subject who is aware of their own objecthood, feeling intimately and viscerally their less-than-human existence. For racialized subjects, racial embodiment emerges in a seemingly paradoxical condition in which one’s existential subjectivity is rooted in their sensorial awareness of their objectification.

This presentation brings somatic attention to the lived and embodied feelings of racialized subjects. We foreground the sensing bodies at the core of our sensorial theorizing of race and racism. When it comes to race, the body is not merely an object on which racial differences are inscribed, but it is simultaneously the subject that feels such inscription. What tends to be underestimated in a racist society is that those who are reduced to an object still feel and sense such objectification. We argue that somatic labor plays a significant role in the construction of racialized relations of sensing. The racial reality is saturated with visual, tactile, kinesthetic, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and other felt-qualities that appeal to our senses. Multiple bodily senses are engaged in racialized interactions and experiences, and such embodied multisensory feelings are integral to the social construction of race. We extend the sensory theorizing of race by focusing on felt-bodily sensations that mediate and materialize the viscosity of racial formation. Our goal is to articulate the sensory dimensions of race and racism by examining how race comes to be felt and registered through the senses, and how racism is sedimented in our lived embodiment and its surrounding environment.

We argue that race and racism do not simply organize our sensory perceptions and experiences; rather, race and racism actively produce somatosensory experiences (i.e. fear, gut reaction) that viscously stick to our bodies. Race materializes through an intensification of certain visceral sensations and sensory perceptions. As an assemblage of affective, bodily, and emotional habituations, racial embodiment is a site where recurring sensations and impressions of racism are viscerally held together. While the senses are manipulated by racism, they are also the medium of possibility and the foundation of subjectivity and intersubjectivity. We examine embodied experiences and bodily sensations of racialized subjects as sources of knowledge for critically understanding, and potentially transforming, the relations of sensing that uphold the racialized relations of power.

Christopher Brown speaks (together with Sachi Sekimoto) in Panel I: Other(ed) Sensibilities. Revisiting the Sensory Politics of Racialization by Anja Breljak and Vanessa Oberin